Oscar-winning star Louis Gossett Jr. dead at 87

LOS ANGELS — Louis Gossett Jr., who won an Academy Award for his performance in “An Officer and a Gentleman” and an Emmy for the groundbreaking miniseries “Roots,” has died at age 87, according to a statement from his family.

“It is with our heartfelt regret to confirm our beloved father passed away this morning. We would like to thank everyone for their condolences at this time. Please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time,” the family’s statement, shared by Gossett’s longtime publicist, read.

Gossett became the first Black man to win an Oscar for a supporting role in 1983 for his work as the tough drill instructor, training a character played by Richard Gere, in “An Officer and a Gentleman.” The hit movie followed by six years his portrayal of Fiddler, who takes the newly arrived slave Kunta Kinte under his wing in ABC’s adaptation of Alex Haley’s book.

Tall at 6’4”, Gossett became known for authority-figure roles that took advantage of his physicality, playing a boxer in the movie “Diggstown,” the villain in the movie “The Deep” and an alien pilot (hidden under heavy makeup), marooned on a dangerous planet with his human foe, in the sci-fi allegory “Enemy Mine.” He also starred in the “Iron Eagle” movies, which produced several sequels.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Gossett credited a high school English teacher with steering him toward acting, which he pursued while also playing basketball, even trying out for the New York Knicks. He studied drama while attending New York University, and early in his career appeared on stage and later in the movie version of “A Raisin in the Sun,” opposite Sidney Poitier, which launched his career in Hollywood. (Poitier was the first Black man to win an Oscar, in the 1960s for “Lilies of the Field.”)

Gossett played several historical figures, including Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat and baseball legend Satchel Paige in TV movies during the 1980s.

Off screen, Gossett helped found the Eracism Foundation in the 1990s, an organization committed to ending racism, which Gossett spoke of experiencing in Hollywood.

“I had to really learn the importance of what it takes to survive in this town, and I had to act as if I was second class,” he said. “I had to ingest the onus of being an African American person in America.”

The actor was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010 and decided to go public with the news “to set an example for the large number of African-American men who are victims of this disease because of the comparatively low emphasis in our community on preventive examinations and early treatment.”

“I want to influence them to seek, as I have, the fine medical care and early detection now available,” he said at the time.

That didn’t stop him, however, from doing the work that he loved.

Gossett remained active in performing well into his 80s, co-starring last year in the movie version of the musical “The Color Purple” and a few years before that in the HBO series “Watchmen,” for which he received the last of his eight Emmy nominations in 2020. — CNN

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